'The word Einkorn is of German origin and means one grain’
Einkorn is among the oldest cultivated wheat species in the world, the grain that something like 10,000 years introduced agriculture and our ancestors used for the first time to nourish themselves, either by preparing a porridge or by crashing its fruits to obtain flour and make the first-ever type of bread. Its name coincides with a particular feature; its spikelet (the basic unit of a grass flower) contains only one grain kernel, in contrast to other wheats that can have several.
Early cultivation of Einkorn was favourable because of its ability to grow in poor, dry soils, and under harsh conditions. Later in time, its cultivation somehow diminished markedly, mainly because other wheat varieties with higher yields and better bread-, and pasta-making properties appeared and became popular. At present, Einkorn is cultivated in small scale, mainly in European regions.
Einkorn, as well as Emmer, Khorasan, and Spelt, are among the so-called ‘ancient grains’, which people nowadays tend to prefer more and more, motivated by claims about their higher nutritional value and better tolerance compared to modern wheats. The nutritional value is a topic of research with lots of interest, however the data until know are not sufficient and conclusive to point to a substantial and undoubtful ancient wheat superiority (1,2), mainly because the nutrient content of a grain depends not only on the type of grain per se, but also on the environmental and weather conditions during its cultivation. Generally speaking, both ancient and modern grains, if consumed as a whole, contain surely a wide array of nutrients and it is a good habit to eat a wide variety of them as to obtain a wide spectrum of nutrients. After all, each grain has something to offer and none is a ‘super food’ as often deceptively presented, mainly for marketing purposes.
Concerning Einkorn, it is worth to mention its high content of proteins, and carotenoid pigments, particularly lutein (3). Those pigments give to einkorn flour its characteristic yellowish colour.
Einkorn and bread making
Einkorn typically is boiled and eaten as such rather than milled into flour. The reason being its unfavourable bread-making properties. If you put your hands into a dough made with einkorn flour you can easily understand why. The dough is super sticky, lacking any cohesiveness and elasticity whatsoever. Basically, it feels like a dough made not with wheat, but with a non-gluten grain. That is strange, because Einkorn is particularly rich in proteins, and thus in total gluten (4). However, from the two proteins that make gluten, Einkorn contains substantially low amounts of glutenin (responsible for dough strength and elasticity) compared to gliadin (dough extensibility), and because of this protein ratio, the dough turns to be weak, fragile, and sticky.
Based on the above, to make Einkorn bread you have three options. One is to prepare a low hydration dough (not more than 60%) that will be less sticky and easier to handle. Kneading briefly until it comes together into a uniform mass, letting it ferment and baking this dough will make a bread relatively firm and stiff. The second option is to do the opposite, to prepare a very wet dough (consistency of a thick batter). In this case, it will be impossible to knead the dough by hand, but you can mix it with a spatula as you would do with a cake batter, then pour it into a loaf tin, let it rise, and bake it. I have not tried this method but theoretically, it will result in bread with a softer crumb.
The third option, that I present in the following recipe, is to use not solely Einkorn but to make a blend with common wheat flour. In this way, you will get the characteristics from both flours, the organoleptic properties of common wheat, and the nutty taste and character of Einkorn.
Einkorn Sourdough Bread
250g einkorn wheat whole-grain flour
250g common wheat flour *
100g active sourdough **
375g water (75% hydration)
* You can use whatever type of wheat flour you like. In this recipe, I used type 1050 (that is between completely white and whole-grain in terms of bran content) based on German classification
** Feed your sourdough with einkorn and/or common wheat flour and let it several hours or overnight at room temperature to activate
- (Optional) If you have time, perform an autolyse step by briefly mixing the flours and the water in a bowl. When flour is fully hydrated, cover the bowl and let it autolyse for 1-2 hours.
(If you have no time for this proceed directly to the next step and mix all ingredients at once).
- Add the active sourdough and the salt into the autolysed dough and knead for a few minutes until a cohesive and extensible dough is formed.
(The dough will be sticky. Knead it only briefly using wet hands if needed, but adding no extra flour).
- Return the dough in the bowl, cover it and let it ferment, initially for an hour at room temperature, and then overnight in the fridge.
- The next day, go ahead by baking the bread directly coming from the fridge. Start by preheating the oven at 220-230°C.
- Scrape out the dough onto a well-floured surface. Shape it briefly with your hands by stretching and folding from all sides and place it onto a baking tray, lined with baking paper.
(If you have one, you can bake the bread inside a cast-iron baking pot (Dutch oven) with a lid. In this case, pre-heat well also that).
- Bake the bread for ca. 60 min.
(If you bake it inside a pot, remove the lid after 30 min).
- When out from the oven, let the bread stand for 1-2 hours before slicing it.
(1) Shewry PR. Do ancient types of wheat have health benefits compared with modern bread wheat? Journal of Cereal Science (2018);79:469-476
(2) Dinu M, Whitaker A, Pagliai G, Benedettelli S, Sofi F. Ancient wheat species and human health: Biochemical and clinical implications. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry (2018);52:1-9
(3) Shewry PR, Hey S. Do ‘ancient’ wheat species differ from modern bread white in their contents of bioactive compounds? Journal of Cereal Science (2015);65:236-243
(4) Geisslitz S, Longin FH, Scherf KA, Koehler P. Comparative study on gluten protein composition of ancient (Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt) and modern wheat species (Durum and Common Wheat). Foods (2019);8:409